Adrees Latif is the chief photographer in Pakistan, his native country, for the Reuters news agency. In the summer of 2010, Latif covered the monsoon floods that inundated one-fifth of Pakistan and displaced 4 million people. After days of maneuvering through the water on foot, he caught a ride on an Army helicopter delivering relief supplies. At one stop he snapped this image of flood victims desperately grasping for a way out.
Here, in his own words, Latif tells the story behind the picture:
It all started with a passenger plane crashing into hills near Islamabad on July 28 during bad weather. Nine months on, areas in Pakistan's Sindh province still lie submerged and hundreds of thousands of people endure a wretched existence in tent cities across the country, victims of one of the world's worst flooding disasters.
As the scale of the flooding quickly became apparent after the crash, I spent a week wading through towns in the northwest, scene of a military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban the previous year.
The water was icy cold and as villagers made their way out by foot, I made my way in. Unable to swim, they waded through the sand-brown water out in single file, fear etched across their faces. Men carried their wives. Mothers carried their babies. Brothers carried their sisters. A few boats supplied by the military rescued the sick and elderly. The rest were too expensive to hire or had ended up in the hands of looters.
On Aug. 1, wading through water, I shot images of a Pashtun man carrying his wife in his forearms. Offended, he put the woman down and started to attack me. Moments later, a teenage boy carrying his sister did the same. Chest-deep in water and unable to run, my reaction was simply to embrace them and explain what I was doing. In both cases, the men started weeping — "What little we have is gone." It was a phrase I would hear a dozen more times in the days before the waters started to recede, filling the air of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with the stench of thousands of dead farm animals.
After a week, with the floods covering more than a fifth of the country, an area the size of England, the army granted my request for a seat on a helicopter relief flight.
On Saturday Aug. 7, 2010, a handful of photo and video journalists from international agencies took off with food supplies in search of marooned villagers. Minutes into the hour-long ride, the devastation was clear and shocking. On both sides, the floodwaters stretched to the horizon. Only rooftops, power lines, mango plantations and the occasional flock of birds could be seen above water.
As we followed the swollen Indus River basin south toward Muzaffargarh from Multan, the crew spotted a crowd marooned in a cemetery, the only dry land for miles. The helicopter descended, and a crewman slid open a door to guide it in. As we hovered two meters off the ground, the villagers charged forward, clawing at the helicopter in a desperate bid for food. I took one step toward the door and jumped.
To avoid the villagers' clutches, the pilot immediately pulled the helicopter higher as his crew started throwing packets of cooked rice and chickpeas to the starving dozens below.
Stumbling over graves, I moved away to capture the overall scene. Overtaken by the drama, I put my camera down for a moment and watched the Puma chopper silhouetted over the outstretched arms, its whirring propellers churning up dust.
But time was short. I knew I only had as long as it took for the crew to unload the food. I perfected a frame and pushed my way back to the relative calm of the underbelly of the hovering aircraft. In front of me, villagers fought for the last scraps of supplies. Others, trying to escape, grabbed at the helicopter's sidebars. Knowing I had only a few seconds left, I shot another few frames, including this one, of people clutching at the bars in the hope of rescue.
Starting to panic about being marooned myself, I moved to the side of the crowd and caught the eye of a crewman. He nodded to me to hurry. One man in the crowd gave me a leg up and I hurdled over the villagers before the airman managed to grab my wrist and drag me back into the cabin. As the helicopter ascended, the elderly man with the white scarf at the right of the image refused to let go and was pulled to safety inside the helicopter. Time stamps on the images show the whole incident was over in three minutes.
On returning to base, I moved the image to the Reuters wire. The caption read, "Marooned flood victims looking to escape grab the sidebars of a hovering Army helicopter which arrived to distribute food supplies in the Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan's Punjab province, Aug. 7, 2010. Pakistanis desperate to get out of flooded villages threw themselves at helicopters on Saturday as more heavy rain was expected to intensify both suffering and anger with the government. The disaster killed more than 1,600 people and disrupted the lives of 12 million."